Feminist fix: How can we expect men to pay on dates then divorce them when we earn more?

The longer I'm on this planet the more I think we might all be better served if we give up our pursuits for gender equality, revert to exaggeratedly traditional gender roles and call it a day: He hunts (or runs a private equity fund, whatever), she has babies and cooks (oversees the full-time nanny, brings home prepared Whole Foods meals). Of course that would never work any more — including for me. I mean, I could never give up my career and financial independence. And I'm just not prepared to stop peeing standing up.

But ironing out the finer points of feminism seems maddeningly impossible. How, for example, do we close the wage gap when professional women simply prefer to sometimes step off the career track and focus on family? How do we teach our sons and daughters that “no means no” while, in our own personal lives, enjoy the cat-and-mouse pursuit inherent in male-female relationships? How can we relish being cared for when men to pay on dates while we aim to earn at least as much as they? And how can we insist that women's new-found professional/political/financial success is all a boon for everyone, when we now know that it leads to more divorce and lonely women?

Last year I wrote this essay about my internal mud-wrestling match between my inner feminist and my inner femme as it applies to date-paying:

This time last year when a perfectly pleasant round of beers wrapped up with Kevin (or was his name Sean?), it seemed obvious who would pay the bill. It’s the classic little dance: The woman makes a perfunctory offer to pay, knowing full well that the man will get the check. Instead, Sean (or was his name Kevin?) casually suggested we split the tab, and that’s what we did.

And I was pissed! I mean, dude, I’m totally cuter and younger than you are, and unless I misread something, you found me to be smart and charming. So pick up the damn bill, Kevin/Sean/whatever your name was!

But I hesitate to share that thought here. After all, I fall into the ranks of educated, professional urbanite, left-leaning and moderately feminist. In other words, I make my own money and am looking for a guy who digs my mind and wit. So where do I get off expecting chivalry based on the assumption of my economic inferiority and need to be cared for? Despite plenty of logical explanations of why I should buy my own drink, I still couldn’t shake the notion that the guy pays for the first date. So I decided to find out what’s going on in the dating world—and why we pay (or don’t) the way we do.

Experts I interviewed gave all the usual explanations why my instincts were right and guys should cover the tab: custom, an evolutionary need for women to feel cared for (and men to feel powerful) and “women tend to spend more money, time and effort than men in preparing to go on the date,” as one male therapist pointed out.

I accept this typical male-female dynamic and see how it plays out in the men I am attracted to — guys who can make decisions, take the lead and are, well, masculine. I clearly am not alone, as I got an overwhelming and affirmative response to this post on the subject:

That’s the thing with the Lou’s of the world, Sarah and I agreed. We love that they take over plans for the evening, and then take over our feminist now whatbodies for the night. When you are an independent woman with lots of responsibilities, many men assume that we want to carry out that strong role all the time. But I need to feel like a woman, and the times I enjoy that most are when I am with a man. If I am being honest with myself, being a woman means – to a degree – being passive. And that requires a man who is – to a degree – the alpha.

All this gender-typical business is all good in the theater of dating where everyone plays a role — including clearly defined gender roles. But what happens when the curtain comes down and the audience goes home? What happens when my professional alpha forges ahead? What happens when when a woman earns more than a man?

I'll tell you what: She resents his effeminate ass, he resents being emasculated, and they split. A big New York Times article this summer “Breadwinner Wives, Nervous Husbands” spelled out all the social ills that stem from women earning more than men. Just to remind you: chicks head 40 percent of households with kids, women eclipse dudes in college admissions and are making huge strides in most quantifiable measures when compared with 40 years ago. And then families fall apart if they're ever formed at all, according to various studies cited in the story:

  • While women prefer men to be intelligent and ambitious, men have these preferences for women only to the point where women threaten to earn more than they do.
  • The divorce rate is 50 percent higher in couples where the wife earns more than the husband.
  • The share of young adults in marriages is plummeting, and researchers attribute the rise in female affluence and professional success to 25 percent of that decline.

In summary: Women want macho men to make us feel cared for while they chase us around. But then we want to take care of ourselves – and our kids, and the guy, too, if it works out that way. We want it both ways, but clearly that’s not working out so hot.

This confluence of trends means that something has to give, and that is our definition of success. It is easy to applaud feminism’s fantastic strides when we look at quantifiable measures of education, money and professional status. But all this comes at a price to our relationships, which decline in their success for every step we take towards professional success.

It is time to take a step back and start talking about what is really going on here. We can't change biology. We can't change our desire for alpha men. And we can't change men's desire to dominate. We also can't change our need to couple up and benefit from long-term relationships and marriage. No way are women going to consciously give up the strides we've made, but we must start having conversations about the downsides of the upsides of feminism.

I often say that this is but a moment in the history of feminism. Ours is a fascinating time in which we are charged with sorting out all these finer but critical issues in creating true equality. Each every one of us makes in how we manage our careers, families and relationships is a tiny but important match sticks in the giant railroad of feminism. How you conduct yourself in your personal life affects me in mine — and our daughters and sons moving forward. So how do you propose we reconcile all these seemingly competing forces? I toss the conversation to you:

  • Do you feel you hold yourself back professionally for the sake of your husband’s masculinity – and therefor the success of your marriage?
  • If you are single, do you find yourself downplaying your success to potential mates?
  • Are you in a relationship in which you earn more than your male partner? Do you resent that? Does he? Be honest. For real – do you find him just as sexy as you do men who are more professionally successful than you?
  • How do we sort out this mess?

Please chime in!

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Ken on October 19, 2015 at 5:38 am

    Feminism has destroyed the family and rendered countless children fatherless.

    Men are now avoiding marriage altogether to save themselves from a life of child support, alimony and loss of their own children.

    Men and boys now over-represent in all risk groups. And yet there are no support programs for them.

    It is a mess. b

    The only hope is that non-feminist women will step up and change the situation, but even then it would take generations.

    Every culture has its rise and fall…..we are seeing our fall. The family unit is the basis of any society, and ours has been scuttled. both by feminism and by the western governments that have supported that movement.

  2. Jaime on December 23, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Men are subject to sexism in the media to conform to unrealistic bodybuilding stereotypes, education system favours women with program and services and women’s only scholarships/bursaries, female only bias government/corporate laws, men have limited contraceptive options (no safe convenient male birth control pill), men’s health issues ignored to a level where they barely exist, their are no DV shelters for men, men face higher rates of homeless/poverty, men face higher rates of suicide, men face higher rates of homocide, men are assumed primary aggressor in a DV dispute and can be pipelined straight to jail even if she stabs him with a knife as long as he defended himself, divorce courtroom bias allows women to unfairly/cruelly bankrupt men, men do not have equality in parental rights, men and boys are not protected under genital autonomy legislation, men have a overall worse portrayal in the media than women, men in college face a modern grey area of acts rape accusations and are being denied due process, men’s rights forums are being denied access to colleges and universities, men’s rights venue are being censored by feminists in general and was denied a venue at amnesty international, men still suffer more rigid stereotypes/roles, men face higher prison sentences for the same crime, men face PC sexism with no consequences, men are not opted gender quotas to female dominated fields, women business owners have exclusive tax credits where men have none, men have a shorter life expectancy, men die on the job in larger more frequent numbers, men are criticized for and are being arrested for how we sit and in Sweden/Germany for how we urinate, boys represent more infant fatality, women under 30 are earning 8% more than men while men are still being demonized for a pay gap myth that is due to women’s job choices and hours worked, millennial men are punished by feminists for crimes of the past

  3. John7 on March 15, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Unbelievable how educated yet unnatural therefore abnormal so many adults have become. The thrust of this article is true however, Emma cannot give up her Career of Financial Independence wherein lies the KEY to feminism AND the the lost key to natural living that for thousands of years until ~ the 60s, genders did not even think to question and yet we today ignore this natural past of people while allowing technologies destroy our family life, health, creatures, and soul. It does not take much of an IQ to figure this out yet all the articles by BOTH genders about the battle of the sexes fail to point out the cause. Even a newborn knows the Truth…when a baby is born and given to the mother the baby can smell the mother and desires her breasts for nourishment plus warmth….until the teeth…yet most mothers in the west (a declining culture) do not get this OR do, however cannot give up their quest for competing with men for Jobs to gain what? Money and materialism. This is unbelievably lacking in character and Soul. Whatever is responsible for putting us here on this planet, just has to have a plan…ALL other creatures including mammals like us adhere to nature’s laws but we, who have been given control over them are destroying them and us ALL for $$$$. People’s technologies have gotten so carried away they are taking us into an spiraling abyss of non-emotion. We can blame this on men since they have invented practically every tangible around us yet, females allowed this out-of-control chaos thinking it makes their lives so comfortable which is true. Without the high tech, females would have far fewer Jobs because most Jobs would require (like the olden days) physical strength. Is it worth it to give up one’s soul, closeness to children and spouse, for shopping, travel, eating out, Careers, non-committing males (who are exhausted with competing with the gender they never wished to, for work)…think please, it is not normal nor healthy for women to compete with men for Jobs while neglecting with dire consequences for men, children, and themselves IF they would just wake up and then tell the truth. Nature will stop this 5 decade trend in its tracks sooner than we think. Currently, Caucasians birth rate is so low that all the white ladies who have so called benefited from Employment Equity or Affirmative Action will not do so since race demographics is changing so fast.

  4. justsomeguy69er on October 3, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    you cannot ride the bus and also drive your car. You cannot swim in the ocean and also stay dry. You simply cannot have it both ways and despite your cultural- marxism’s backwards teaching, you cannot – are you ready for this? – you cannot have it ALL. A rose by any other name is a prostitute. IF it takes a woman much more time and a small mint’s worth of products to get ready, she isn’t worth the bother because she is LYING to everyone she sees with her fake-face and is not attractive without the makeup or secure in herself. How is this a valid excuse for women expecting men to be good little johns? We pissed away all of our money on the unnatural-looking cake on our faces, so we can’t afford to pay our own way. Women are going to learn the very hard way, that equality with a man means YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. No special privileges, no help, NO PICKING UP THE CHECK

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